The Seer – Snippet 46
But no — had Pohut been here, he would have been fiercely proud. At least the man his brother had been before Botaros.
Innel had not forgotten the seer’s predictions about the king’s abdication to Cern.
The spring after next, or the summer following. Mere months from now.
In the anteroom, a swirl of aides separating them, Sachare hovering protectively, Innel caught Cern’s eye and smiled. She returned a glare that he knew was not meant for him. The seneschal was too busy lecturing someone else to give them any last minute instructions about the feast to follow, so Innel waded through the sea of people to reach her side. He took her hand, a gesture uninvited, one that he felt he could now risk.
“I hate this, Innel,” she whispered to him.
“One step closer, my lady,” he whispered back. To the throne.
At that she grimaced a bit, a brittle smile, but he saw through it to something like desire. He wondered what expression her face would take on when a crown was put on her head.
Within a month the king had changed his mind again. To wed was easy, he said, but best for Cern to make an heir first. Better yet, two or more. Don’t make my mistake, he said. A few more years of seasoning. Make her better suited to rule the empire.
Innel was unsurprised, but as the days passed Cern became more and more livid. She wandered the palace in a tight fury, clenching her fists and saying things that should not be said about one’s monarch, certainly not an Anandynar, as fond as they were of elaborate executions. Innel did not think Cern was in real danger, given how much faith the king put in his own bloodline, but it would not be wise to test that certainty.
It was now, finally, the spring of the seer’s prediction.
Innel mused on the plans that he had spent so many years assembling. Should he wait?
The spring after next, or the summer following.
He looked out his small office window to Execution Square to see how things were progressing. The twitching man was on day two of his dying efforts, suspended four feet off the ground, some thirty hooks embedded deeply in his flesh, from fingers to toes. Innel had found that a long look at one of the king’s executions helped him order his priorities.
Act now, or wait? He considered the question for a day, and then another.
If he had the girl, he could simply ask her.
At last, while Cern’s storming temper swayed him, it was the seer’s words that decided him: it was time.
On the fifth day, when the man in Execution Square had stopped moving, Innel began. He sent Srel with herbs to calm Cern. She quieted, sitting for long hours in the glassed-in gardens, staring at her birds. Innel saw to it that she was carefully watched by his guards as well as her own.
As a result of meticulous planning and sand-clock timing, Innel was nowhere near Restarn when the old king stumbled, was caught by his guards, and carried to his bed, hot with fever.
The slave who was sent to tend to him knew to kiss him as he slept, but only after applying the lip rouge Innel had given her. She didn’t know why, only that if she did as she was told, her sister would not be sent from the palace into House Helata’s navy, to serve sailors at sea.
The apothecary knew a little more: to mix with the many ingredients for the tincture for the king’s fever a new ingredient, by itself a perfectly benign herbal extract, in exchange for Innel making sure that no one would care about his drunken rant in the kitchens a few months ago in which he described the various compounds he had assembled for members of the royal family to treat various maladies, some of which were rather embarrassing.
The final ingredient was the doctor herself. He had chosen her with care; she was neither brilliant nor clumsy, and had few enemies. For her, Innel had brokered a quiet agreement with his Cohort sister Malrin of House Eschelatine to take the doctor’s newborn grandson, a baby from a match not crown-approved, and have the boy tucked into the lesser House, to seem to have been born to an approved match that wanted a baby. In exchange, the doctor would put a bit of a certain powder on her fingertips before she inspected His Royal Majesty’s mouth, to be sure his gums weren’t bleeding.
The king’s condition worsened over days, and then weeks. Bedridden and still feverish, Restarn was approached by his closest advisers, many of whom Innel had spoken to, to be sure they knew which way the wind was blowing. They asked the king, might it not be time to consider abdicating to Cern?
That is, unless he had another heir in mind?
Innel had been told that even as ill as he was, Restarn had been adamant in his reply. At his command the strongbox had been brought out from under the bed. He unlocked it, thrusting the succession letter at them.
Cern was at the top of the list. The rest of the names should have stayed quietly behind the eyes of those in that room, but of course that was not the way the palace worked. Now everyone knew the entire list.
Innel gave Cern no more herbs, needing her alert. But even sober she seemed uninterested in the process by which she might become queen, despite her anger at being denied it before. She only grudgingly participated in the council sessions that the king from his bed also grudgingly allowed. The planning sessions that might, if all went well, lead to her coronation.
With the affairs of state floating between an ailing Restarn and a sullen Cern, trade and House negotiations stumbled, contracts frayed and needed focused grooming to survive. As Innel struggled to keep Cern somewhere between too tense and too withdrawn, taking on as many administrative tasks as he could, he also made sure those who supported the king most closely knew there might be a place for them under the new queen. When she was crowned.
It was like juggling oiled knives in a dark room: any slip could cut. Or kill.
In front of Innel was a barely touched plate of food. He rubbed his head, trying to ease the ache and strain of a day already too full.
And now this.
“Be ready,” read the simple message, written in the down-city broker’s hand. He crumpled it and tossed it in the fire along with his sense of having been given an order.
This was how it worked; money was not enough to hire a mage. Even the appalling amount with which Tok had supplied him. They must be persuaded. Seduced.
He considered who he might send to do this. Sachare, Tok, Sutarnan, Dil, and even Mulack were all quite capable of convincing people to do things they didn’t want to do. Pohut had been the best of the lot, of course. Had he been here, he would be the one to send.
No, there was no one else he could trust to do this. He would have to go himself.
Somehow. There did not seem to be an hour of the day in which he was not acting in some way essential to support Cern’s cause or to undermine one of the others’ on the succession list. Now that there was no secret who would take the throne if something happened to Cern, there were too many people eyeing the throne with interest and eyeing Cern speculatively.
He doubled her guards, taking the time to interview each one. Sachare and he had long talks about security.
He brought Cern with more rods and flats and hooks for her various and delicately balanced in-air creations, hoping to keep her entertained in her own rooms.
The other royals on the succession list — two of the king’s cousins, a great nephew now married into one of the Houses, and a toddler niece — were subject to more attention as well, which had the advantage of keeping them busy with new and fawning friends, but it also put the thought in people’s heads that there might be options to Cern becoming queen.